All You Need to Know About Waxing Hardwood Floors
Bring long-lasting luster to hardwood floors with this time-tested finish.
Hardwood floors add classic elegance to your home—but not when they’re dull, dinted, or dingy. Fortunately, waxing hardwood floors is an economical, tried-and-true way to restore their gleam and prolong their life. Read on to learn the technique for applying a high-performing wax finish that will look so grand, you’ll be walking on air!’
Why wax hardwood floors?
Popularized in the 1940s, waxing is a floor finishing technique in which clear or colored wax, made of a blend of solvents and synthetic and/or natural waxes like beeswax or carnauba, is applied to a hardwood floor in a thin layer and then buffed to a shine. As the solvents in the wax evaporate, the wax hardens into a protective seal that confers a host of benefits:
- Increases stain resistance: The wax seal limits the absorption of spills to keep floors from staining.
- Minimizes minor imperfections: Wax fades or eliminates the appearance of superficial scratches, dings, and scuffs marks.
- Preserves underlying finishes: Wax acts as the first line of defense against spills, dust, and dirt, preventing them from encroaching on underlying finishes, such as oil, and enabling the underlying finish to last longer.
- Prolongs floor life: The increased hardiness of waxed floors allows them to potentially last years longer than un-waxed floors if regularly maintained.
- Boosts beauty: Clear wax lends a shiny look and a glossier feel that vacuuming or mopping alone can’t achieve. Colored waxes, available in hues on the brown spectrum, offer these same benefits plus an attractive tint that gives floors an even richer, deeper patina.
That said, wax offers only limited resistance to deeper dents or gouges, and does little to ward off warping or bulging from widespread moisture exposure due to leaks or minor floods. Wax should be considered as a top coat—a final layer of protection, not the only protective finish, on a hardwood floor.
Is it good on all floors?
The best candidate for waxing is a hardwood floor that was previously treated with a penetrating wood sealer, lacquer, varnish, shellac, or oil, as wax can bolster the protective properties of these finishes. However, you can also wax unfinished floors.
Never wax urethane-finished floors (which could prevent them from being effectively recoated with urethane; instead, use polish) or those labeled “no-wax,” such as no-wax linoleum or vinyl designed to look like wood (they come with a factory coating that doesn’t require waxing).
Waxing is also only suitable for hardwood floors in good structural condition; that is, with no significant chipping, gouging, discoloration, warping, or bulging. If your hardwood is plagued with these problems, replace or repair affected floorboards (e.g., sand away discoloration or fill gouges with wood filler) before waxing hardwood floors.
What type of wax should I use?
Make sure to use the appropriate wax for hardwood floors:
- Either a solid paste wax or a liquid wax: Solid paste wax, sold in cans (starting at $9.98 per 16 ounces from brands like Minwax on Amazon), usually has more wax and less solvent. This imparts a thicker consistency that must be applied by hand with a cloth but requires fewer coats. Liquid wax, available in cans or bottles (starting at $13.74 per 32 ounces from brands like Rust-Oleum on Amazon), contains more solvent, so has a thinner consistency and can be applied by mop, but demands multiple coats.
- Labeled for use on floors: Steer clear of waxes labeled exclusively for use on furniture, as they harden into an ultra-slick coat that makes floors slip-prone.
- Solvent-based: Avoid water-based or acrylic waxes on hardwood floors; they can cause finished floors to take on a white tinge, or damage unfinished hardwood floors.
- Buffable: Look for traditional waxes that must be buffed after application; eschew one-step (i.e., “no-buff”) waxes, as dirt readily clings to them.
What waxing techniques achieve the best results?
Use the tips below to master the three phases of waxing hardwood floors: surface preparation, application, and buffing.
- Remove rugs and furniture from the room.
- Strip old wax, if present, by working a soft cloth dampened with mineral spirits or a commercial wax stripper such as Trewax Instant Wax Remover (available on Amazon) over two-foot sections of the floor at a time until no more wax residue comes off on the cloth. Slough off stubborn wax build-up with fine-grade steel wool.
- Dry-mop (with a microfiber cloth pad) or vacuum the floor with a dust brush attachment to eliminate dust and any loose wax build-up.
- If the floor is still dingy after dusting, use a sponge mop to remove grime. Work in three-foot sections at a time, using a store-bought hardwood floor cleaner from brands such as Bona (available on Amazon) or a homemade equivalent consisting of one quarter-cup of dish soap and a gallon of warm water. Damp mop the floor with water to remove leftover cleaner, then dry with a clean towel.
- Always wear gloves and a dust mask for protection from fumes in wax solvents.
- Get into a comfortable kneeling position before applying solid paste wax, as it should be applied by hand (knee pads ought to help). If applying liquid wax, remain standing.
- Grab a putty knife and a soft, lint-free cloth if applying solid wax. For liquid wax, enlist a sponge mop for the quickest application.
- Scoop a tablespoon of solid wax with the putty knife onto a soft, lint-free cloth. If using liquid wax, pour or squeeze a tablespoon from the can or bottle directly onto the hardwood floor, then dip the mop head into the wax.
- Working in one- to two-foot sections, spread a thin layer of solid wax with the cloth, or liquid wax with a sponge mop. Start at one corner of the room and move towards an exit, waxing hardwood floors in the direction of the floorboards. When you’ve used up your first batch of wax, apply more to the cloth or to the floor until you’ve covered the entire room.
- Let the first coat dry, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the product.
- Apply additional coats per the manufacturer’s recommendation, allowing each to dry in between. Solid paste wax generally hardens into a thicker layer of protection, so one coat is often sufficient over finished wood, or two coats over unfinished wood, whereas liquid wax usually needs two to three coats at a minimum, as each coat is much thinner.
- Let the final coat of wax dry just until hazy; at this point, it’s ready to buff.
- Enlisting a towel for solid wax, or a sponge mop with a terry cloth head for liquid wax, rub the cloth, or glide the mop, over two-foot sections of the floor at a time. Start in the same corner of the room where you began and move in the direction of the wood grain, buffing to the desired luster.
- Employ an electric floor buffer/polisher (rental from Home Depot starts at $30 for a half day) to speed up the process of buffing either solid or liquid wax.
- Leave the freshly waxed floor undisturbed for eight hours before stepping on or replacing furniture.
How can I keep waxed hardwood floors looking great?
Follow these tips to prolong the life and luster of your waxed hardwood:
- Re-wax floors at the interval recommended by the manufacturer. Generally, solid wax coats can last up to two to five years, and liquid wax coats between one to two years. If no re-waxing interval is given, wipe a cloth dampened with mineral spirits over a small section of your floor and inspect it. If the cloth is clean with no whitish or colored residue, no wax remains, so it’s time to re-wax.
- Avoid applying fresh wax before the old wax coat has worn off, as over-waxing hardwood floors can result in unsightly wax build-up.
- In between waxings, fade superficial imperfections by buffing floors using the tips above.
- Weekly dry-mop waxed with a microfiber cloth pad, or vacuum with a dust brush attachment, to keep dust at bay.
- Avoid wet-mopping large areas of the waxed hardwood floor with water; it can cloud the wax coat or damage the wood.
- Wipe up spills as soon as they occur with a water-dampened cloth, then wipe dry.
- Remove stains or discoloration by working hardwood floor cleaner into the offending spot with a cloth. Use a water-dampened cloth to remove the leftover cleaner, then dry with a clean towel.
- Lay rugs or mats at the foot of doorways near waxed hardwood floors to keep dirt from being tracked in.
- Lift, rather than drag, furniture across the waxed hardwood floors to avoid dents.